Final QEM Blog

Leonardo Alfonso-Galtes


Final QEM Blog

For my final blog, I think I will discuss a few highlights of the week and my overall thoughts of the internship. This week flew by in the blink of an eye and I felt quite proud when I presented my NSF research as well as my final remarks to Sherrie Green in the closing ceremony. True be told that this internship had its ups and downs but there is no doubt that I grew as a person. For example, it was difficult for me to adjust to my dorm setting and making new friends, however all of that was trumped by the connections I made in the in the National Science Foundation through the help of my mentor Dr. Anna Kerttula. Through her open-door policy and her desire to watch me succeed I managed to adjust to my work setting and most importantly, visiting Alaska. My trip to the land of the midnight sun brought me hands-on experience not just by conducting field work but by shadowing science professionals who shared with me their wisdom and insight into science professions. All in all, I will always cherish this internship experience and I thank all who made it possible.

Highlights from my internship:

QEM Blog 9

Throughout this week I had the opportunity to visit many farms with UA Fairbanks Plant Pathologist Dr. Jennifer McBeath and USDA Pest Control Agent Dr. Clinton Campbell. Together we planted many insect traps throughout the farms in an effort to identify pest affecting crop production in the subsequent flow of food throughout the state of Alaska.

All the while my professional colleagues listened to the concerns of farmers and noted them in an effort to seek solutions in the coming months.

All in all, this experience has helped me made many connections in key areas of interest which will assist me with my udergraduate research.

Thank you for your support.

QEM Blog 8

Leonardo Alfonso

QEM Blog 7/21/2017

Aside from all my weekly worked and experiences I think for this blog I will go straight to the point and discuss my most memorable point of this week. I am sure that you can imagine how busy and overwhelming the life of an intern and college student can be however unlike most young men my age who spend time watching Netflix and play video games after work to distress, I step away from the black mirrors that are the screens of my laptop and cellphone and go out for long walks. I find it soothing to tune out all the fast paste communication and distractions that come from electronics and focus on walking and admiring the scenic view of wherever I am.

Subsequently on Wednesday afternoon I felt quite tired from work and after arriving home I chose to change cloths and go walking by the National Mall, one of my favorite places on DC. Firstly, I visited the Lincoln Memorial as I usually do to symbolically pay my respects to Lincoln who helped preserve our Union. While at his memorial I tend to climb to the top, visit the inside to say thank you, and then go around the temple to gain a 360-degree view of DC. I particularly enjoy this as rarely anyone walks behind the temple and I get to spend a few minutes alone just enjoying the view westward to Virginia.

Thereafter I continue my walk near the Reflection Pool towards the Washington Monument all the while enjoying the company of strangers around me and of the ducks that call the pool home. While on passing through the World War 2 Memorial fountains a senior couple from Spain kindly asked if I could photograph them with both the fountain and the Washington Monument in the background and I agreed to help. I am proud to say that all my years of doing wildlife photography paid off as I took what I think are the best photos of a couple in their late years merely enjoying the environment around them and appreciating one another. It also made me content to have spoken Spanish with them because it helped me create a more sincere and familiar bond.

Though my interaction with this couple from Spain might have lasted for two or five minutes, I could not help but notice how these people, ordinary and casual in appearance, could emit such love, affection, and appreciation for one another. Sure, I probably will never see them again nor will I ever know how they truly are yet I will continue believing that this couple whom I helped create a memory that will last a lifetime is an example of the kindness that lie in every one of us.

After my heart-felt encounter I went on my merry way to the Washington Monument, observed its symbolic stance across the land, and made my way to the nearby metro to head back home.

I tell this story with all my sincerity and good intentions not to tell a cute tale but to remind myself that amidst all the overwhelming tasks life throws at me from scholastic responsibilities to being the bread winner at home, I must never forget those moments that help me become content with my existence in this ever-changing world.

Link to Photos:

QEM Blog 7


Weekly Blog

This week has been very productive and fun events. For starters, I am very content with my performance on QEM Monday Workshop where I was unexpectedly asked to write a grad school letter of intent. I was proud of myself when I realized that I had written more than 500 words in under 30 minutes some of the other interns only had but a few sentences written. Thereafter on Tuesday I had a good time kayaking with my friend Leean after work and managed to see DC in a different paradigm. On Wednesday, I was happy to share with Dr. Kerttula and Dr. Riach my work progress and they were very kind and thoughtful when giving feedback. However, the more fulfilling part about this week has been my trip to Massachusetts where I am staying in the Havard Forest REU site participating in a workshop till Saturday where I conducting quantitative field research on flora and the tree growth. All in all, I am very thankful with how productive and interesting my summer internship experience has been which I certainly will never forget.

Link to photos:

QEM Blog 6

QEM Blog 6

Another productive week has gone by and I cannot help but notice how fast this internship has been. Certainly, this has something to do with how there are new and interesting tasks to do every day from working in the NSF, to having lunch with a fellow intern, and even visiting a STEM Education Policy Panel after work. So, the highlights of this week have been numerous and fun. On July 4th, I was invited to my mentor's high rise apartment where I met professionals in the science and journalism fields as well as seeing the fireworks over the National Mall.

The subsequent days where productive since on Wednesday I manage to write about my perspective on STEM policy, on Thursday I had a successful midterm evaluation conversation with QEM Coordinator Kendrick Pullen where we discussed areas of improvement as well as my NSF project. Fun fact, even though being tired from work and the evaluation, I attended a STEM Policy Panel on the US Capitol which helped me meet numerous STEM professionals who were intrigued by my NSF work and managed to add me on Linkedin. I must thank my friend Meredith whom I met in the Hispanic Caucus meeting for informing me of the opportunity.

The next day on Friday I managed to have a meeting with Aixa Aleman, a renown NSF environmental anthropologist, and we spend a good hour discussing the opportunities available if I choose to attend grad school for that field. Thereafter I had a phone interview with Catherine Chan, the chairperson of the University of Hawaii (Manoa) Natural Resource Management degree. She was very kind to accept my invitation to discuss my grad school goals and informed me of the tasks I must complete to get accepted into her program.

This conversation was very fulfilling because it has been my childhood goal to go to school in Hawaii. I certainly must thank QEM for helping me arrive at this point of my life. Being an NSF research intern and having an actual NSF email certainly helps when making professional and academic connections.

Photos from the week:

QEM Blog 5

Leonardo Alfonso-Galtes


Blog 5

This week has been incredibly fun and productive.

For starters, I finally got around to add a friend on LinkedIn who I met through volunteering in the GW Community Garden.

His name is Bhojraj Pokharel and he is a Public Relations specialist from Nepal conducting electoral and peace research as a fellow of the United States Institute for Peace.

Aside from being a kind person with a love for nature and wildlife, I would like to expand my friendship with him to hopefully one day collaborate on a project to address the concerns of the poor and disenfranchise of this country and tie it all together with the growth of harmony through nature.

Regarding LinkedIn, I added and met with Moki Kokoris, an architect turned arctic-environmentalist after she decided to follow passion for nature that rested in her heart.

She currently runs a company called 90-North where she works with K-12 school across the US to increase the growth of STEM students as well as bringing awareness of the Arctic's importance to the global environment.

Moreover, she has extended her hand to help me align my career goals and create a list of potential grad schools to attend. What's fascinating about this is that Moki is not the only one going out of their way to help me. Daniel Souleles, Baraba Rose Johnson, and Ariela Zycherman, all of which I met on LinkedIn, have volunteered to help me. I never would have imagined that I would meet such kind and generous scientist through LinkedIn.

Furthermore, it the Grad School Funding workshop hosted by the NSF on Thursday taught me about the many ways I can get funded to earn a master or Phd and now I feel more confident than ever that I will become the first person in my family to attend grad school and while doing so getting out of adversity.

On another matter, I want to say how happy I was on Wednesday from attending my first ever baseball game in the Nationals Stadium.

It was very fun us interns going as a group and seating way up, where the whole field was visible and fans from the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals surrounded us.

The food was not bad either since for 12$ I managed to get myself a juicy England burger and cheesy fries which I shared with Jasmine Jones who seated next to me.

On my way home, I met a senior couple from Norway and to my surprise, I managed to have a friendly conversation throughout my metro commute. I still remember how it started, as Kendrick, Sergio, Jasmine, and I ran into the metro, I mentioned something around the line of, "We could have taken the next train but that's three minutes out of my life I will never get back." Everyone laugh including the couple from Norway and that's when I started talking to them. Throughout our conversation, we talked issue facing Scandinavian countries, the Arctic, and the famous film from Norway called Troll Hunter. All in all, I was surprised how well I managed to hold a conversation with a random couple I just met.

This was simply fun, rewarding, and fulfilling.

Thank you QEM for all you have made possible.

Below you will find photos taken throughout this week.


Leonardo Blog #4

Week 4 Blog.

Yet another week of personal and professional growth has gone by and I can say with great certainty that I am treasuring all that came and went. For example, I became friends with Mehak Sarang, an external NSF intern majoring in physics, helped in the GWU Community Garden, went to a barbecue restaurant with my fellow QEM interns, got a tour of the US Capitol, and most importantly, my NSF mentor Dr. Anna Kerttula informed me of a possible graduate school career track I might consider.

With that said, I cannot stress enough how wonderful my friendship with Mehak has been. Together we have gone walking in the National Mall, visited the Natural History Museum, walked the Georgetown Riverwalk, and have engaged in profound philosophical discussions about what it means to live a fulfilling life. It feels soothing to know that with her I can be an opened book and share all my deepest concerns, desires, and aspirations. I am happy to call her a friend.

In regards to my involvement with the GWU Community Garden, I was surprised as to how many people showed up to help weed and plant new floras this past Tuesday. I never imagined that I would find a place right outside my dorm where I could go not just to volunteer but to relax, seat in a bench under a tree, and read my meditation book.

Thereafter on Wednesday, the QEM Interns and I attended and DC Tech conference and though it was not my cup of tea, I appreciated visiting Chinatown and going inside a synagogue for the first time. But more importantly, after the event ended a couple of interns including myself decided to go explore a new restaurant called Hill Country BBQ and oh boy did I treat myself to some delicious food! I thanked everyone there for the opportunity to have fun with them because prior to meeting up I was having a blue day because I was missing my friends from Miami yet all of that changed. Furthermore, this experienced helped me have a better time of Friday when we went on a tour of the US Capitol and learned about its architecture and history.

Lastly I want to address how insight full my conversations with Dr. Kerttula have been. Through open dialogue about my current work research on Food Security in Alaskan Indigenous Communities and my interest in attending graduate school she informed me of a field of study perhaps perfectly fit to me. The field in question is called Environmental Anthropology and it is the study of the nexus between the natural environment and human culture through time and space. I think this would be a perfect fit for me as in encompasses the two subjects I admire the most which are nature and people. Moreover, both my NSF mentor Dr. Kerttula and my university mentor Dr. James Riach are anthropologist with years of experience working with indigenous groups so I can look up to them for sage advice and career opportunities. Discovering a new potential field to study never crossed my mind when applying to this internship. This comes to show you will never know how far opportunities will take you.

Weekly Blog 3


This week has been very productive due to the various networking workshops I went to and the progress I have achieved in the NSF. For example, the Tuesday NSF workshop was very insightful as it helped me think of ways to communicate with strangers and potential employers without sounding needy. One thing that significantly helped me while doing the practice conversations with other interns I had not met was the improvisation exercise I did in QEM last week. I still remember how reluctant I was to stand up in front of my QEM family and talk about the origins of apple juice, however the exercise ended well and made me realize how easy it is to improvise when chatting to strangers.

Another highlight of my week was the QEM game night on Wednesday where the interns and I played a very funny trivia board game. While playing my mind often drifted into exhaustion from the work I did in the NSF and the hot temperature of the room. However, it was not all that bad as the board game helped us bond while sharing jokes and eating chicken wings Kendrick purchased.

Furthermore, having the game night helped me become more social in the Tri-Caucus meeting on Thursday where I got to meet some very nice people. At first it was very difficult to communicate with people there because it was extremely noisy and almost all participants were political science major. Fortunately, when the event ended and people stood around to mingle I took the initiative to go around introducing myself and I ended up meeting four students of which I exchanged my contact information with.

Regarding my academic development in the NSF under the guidance of Dr. Anna Kerttula, I can say with confidence that there are plenty of opportunities rising from the horizon. Just this Wednesday she offered to send me to Alaska in the week of July 24th where I would be participating in an Alaskan expedition to numerous farms to assess the state of diseases in their flora, particularly in potatoes. The fieldwork will be headed by renown University of Alaska Professor Dr. Jennifer McBeath who uses the data acquired from the farm assessments to analyses the state of sustainable agriculture and food security in the region. All of this is applicable knowledge to my field and studies of my major in Environmental Science, my minor is Agriculture, and my research focus with Dr. Kerttula is assessing the food security issues in Alaska. Logistics about the trip are still underdevelopment and I am sure you will officially hear from my mentor in the coming week.

All in all, this week as been very productive and filled with positive events. You will find below a few photos pertaining to this week which I hope you will enjoy.

Sincerely, Leonardo

NSF Week 1 Blog

Week one of my NSF internship went well as I managed to develop my project, receive constructive criticism, bond with my roommates, make new friends, relax a little in the local GWU community garden. Below you will find a summary of each day.

Monday June 5th, 2017
I am so thankful to be in my dorm relaxing after my first day in the National Science Foundation. Today was orientation day and from 9am all the way to 3pm numerous speakers came and went all informing the interns and I about the rules and regulations one must follow to have a successful and NSF experience. Thereafter I manage to spend a good two hours conversing with my mentor Dr. Anna Kerttula who reassured me that though she does not yet have a clear framework for me to follow this summer, she will start contacting all the key individuals involved in her research so that I may befriend them and work together to collaborate and form research project. Moreover, Dr. Kerttula informed me that she is friend with a high-level USDA director and that she will introduce me to him to collaborate on research and possibly obtain employment in the future. All in all, today was a tiring day with a lot to learn but after meditating in the GWU Organic Garden near my dorm I feel much better and I look forward to getting the ball rolling on my research.

All the NSF Interns

All the NSF Interns

Tuesday June 6, 2017
Today was a far more productive day than yesterday because I sat down with my mentor Dr. Anna Kerttula and narrowed down my research objectives as well as implementing them in my IGDP. Moreover, she granted me access to the NSF's database of approved science projects and I spend a few hours reading over several projects till I could narrow my search to two documents. Thus, my next goal is to read over both projects to learn about the scientific techniques used in both and think about ways of integrating them into own project. I will dedicate time today and tomorrow to read the two projects as they are very long and dialogue heavy. Hopefully by the time I am down reading them I will have a clearer idea about how to compose my research. On another matter, today I got assigned a cubicle office with my own computer, monitor, and office supplies. also, my mentor invited me to participate in a scientific meeting and I could meet other NSF faculty while observing the professionalism involved in scientific meetings and decision making. All in all, I am very proud of myself for coming so far in both life and academia. I am starting to think that each day will become better and better.

My office space.

My office space.

Wednesday June 7th, 2017
Not much to mention today other than I started getting used to my office environment and read a few research documents. My mentor Dr. Kerttula bought me a pork sandwich for lunch, that was nice of her. I also received further feedback on my IGDP from my FIU mentor Dr. Riach so that was much appreciated. When it comes down to it, I think the best part about today was taking some time to relax in the GWU garden and film a sparrow colony perform dust baths. Thereafter I spent a good 3 hours talking with roommates Sergio and Justin about life perspectives, personality traits, video games, and music all of which helped me connect with my peers. Today was a good day.

Thursday June 8th, 2017
Today I made a new friend while waiting for an elevator to arrive. Her name is Antara Shay, an engineering intern from Virginia Tech who works in the 11th floor of the NSF. While conversing, she informed me that later that day she was gonna attend Microsoft Tech Conference and invited me to accompany her. I accepted and around 1pm I headed out with her. I had a great time while on the conference. I saw a virtual reality headset, a machine that can identify plant emotions, machines that control mosquitoes, a 3D Printer, and tattoos that contain virtue information.
Thereafter we parted ways after exchanging contact information and now we often text and converse about science and technology. Good day.

Friday June 9th, 2017
Though my mentor Dr. Anna Kerttula was absent from work do to a medical appointment, my day went on to be a productive one. Today I finished my IGDP, read several research proposals, become acquainted with a HACU environmental intern by the name of Carolina Cantu, and attended a meeting pertaining to the statistical growth rate of minorities and people with disabilities in science and engineering fields. This meeting was very insightful as I witnessed how most people with STEM degrees are white males and white females while in second place come Asians, in third Hispanics, and in fourth African Americans. This information served as fresh reminder that I am one of those underrepresented minorities yet I have the potential to become successful in my Environmental Science Degree. Oh, and on a side note, today I went to IHOP for lunch and was surprised by how nice the people at the restaurant were. Both the other customers and staff were kind unlike my experiences back in South Florida.

First Week in the U.S. Capitol

Since my arrival to Washington, DC for my internship with the National Science Foundation I have experienced a few things which have allowed me to grow as both a student and a person. For starters, my sponsored organization Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) has significantly helped me with professional development. For example, throughout the first week numerous speakers passed by the QEM Office and informed the interns and I on a wide range of topics from how to enhance my Linkedin profile with the help of Mr. Sullivan, become familiar with the different styles of research with Dr. Jared Avery, and learn about potential employment opportunities in non-profit organizations with Courtney Warren from The Pew Charitable Trust.

However, I have grown significantly more as person from the social intricacies I have debt with since arrival. Not only is DC a city with a faster paste than Miami but its people seems to be on a rush all the time which has proved difficult to me since I have been meaning to befriend locals. On a similar matter, it is my first time living in a dorm with roommates so it has been challenging adjusting to my new lifestyle.  On the other hand, though all the interns have personalities very different than my own, they have all proven to be respectful and kind which has significantly reduced my stress level.

In the topic of stress, I am glad to inform you that have taken the initiative to explore the city and its wonders as walking soothes me. For example, on Thursday after work I decided to explore the national mall and ended up passing by the White House, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Statue. My favorite of these sites was the Washington Monument as I achieved my bucket list goal of touching it and resting in its shadow. It felt surreal to be at the base of such a beautiful obelisk among other people and feel as if you are on top of the world. What a pity I will not be able to claim it till 2019 when maintenance will be complete. 

As a matter of fact, I brought that topic up with a near by park ranger, and we spent a good 40 minutes talking about numerous things. His name is Paul and together we discussed the duties of the park servicemen, the DC-state debate, the interpretation of the US Constitution, and most importantly my views on life and working with people. I stated how my humble personality finds fulfillment in helping others, in the growing plants, and cherishing the smalls things of life such as having a pet, having dinner with family, and having fun in natural places such as the beach. I told Paul these topics were the mere contrast to what I have seen in DC, here everyone is eager to make themselves perfect, to compete, to brag, and to criticize. Then Paul told me something very important, "Young man, all you have to do is find that in which you find joy in and do it for a living." I did not know what to reply, I remained quite and lost in translation for a good 10 seconds till Paul said farewell as he headed out to perform his duties. After I expressed my sincere goodbyes, I decided it was good time for dinner and treated myself to a burger and milkshake from Burger Tap and Shake all the while being mindful of what Paul said. 

Till this moment not a second goes by when I wonder where my life's journey will lead me. Will I find a fulfilling job? Will I lay roots in a town where my humbleness shines in virtue of all the simple and kind things in this world? I have yet to find and answers to these two questions but one thing is definitely certain in my heart and thoughts; That among all the QEM activities and NSF duties that are to come, I will cherish each moment and each task as they will undoubtedly form the stepping stones of my life as I walk forward with my humble mindfulness.